MIAMI, Florida – In their history as a National Team, Guatemala have yet to reach a FIFA World Cup, but a new generation of players is hoping to change that and lead the Central American nation to a place in the final round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying and perhaps a first-ever World Cup berth.
While the injection of youth into the Guatemalan squad has proven beneficial, the importance of veteran leadership cannot be overstated, which is where the wisdom of a player like MF Carlos Gallardo comes into play.
The 36-year-old has 57 international caps to his name and has participated in three previous World Cup Qualifying cycles, and with Concacaf WCQ set to begin soon, Gallardo believes Guatemala can achieve something special in the journey to Qatar 2022.
“I think any format used to qualify for a World Cup is difficult, it won’t be easy. Obviously, it depends on the opponent and which top seed you’ll face, but regardless of who we face, we feel like we have the weapons and the footballing quality to be able to advance and reach the Octagonal and be able to qualify for a World Cup, which is every Guatemalan’s dream,” said Gallardo in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
Guatemala will kick off their WCQ in the first round in which they will face four teams in single round-robin matches. Gallardo knows it will take the commitment of every Guatemala player to advance.
“We need to be aware that the work we do both individually and collectively has to be at the maximum. We have to remember that these are national teams, not clubs and the format doesn’t give you that margin of error because there is no home and away leg, but just one match. We know that the final game that we play will be away against the highest ranked team. From that, we have to win as many points as possible before reaching that final game to see what chances we have. From a football standpoint, the order that we have and the commitment of every player will be fundamental to be able to continue advancing hopefully eventually to the Octagonal and the World Cup,” said Gallardo.
While Gallardo has enjoyed the experience of representing Guatemala in tournaments like the Copa Centroamericana and the Concacaf Gold Cup, matches in WCQ bring a different level of intensity.
“World Cup Qualifiers are totally different matches. First, because we know the ultimate objective is qualifying for a World Cup, which is something that Guatemala has not achieved in its 100 years of football. As a footballer, it is something that you seek, and as a fan, it is a dream and a hope,” said Gallardo.
For the first time in two decades, Guatemala will be starting a WCQ cycle without legendary FW and all-time leading scorer Carlos “Pescadito” Ruiz. The absence of Ruiz will surely be felt, but Gallardo has confidence in Guatemala’s new crop of players.
“We all know about Carlos Ruiz and his massive legacy with the National Team. He played almost his entire career abroad and we always knew that he was a player that could lead the team and rescue a result at the last moment. Now there are a lot of young players that have to learn from the experience of those who are still here and take positive things and look for the positive results that Guatemala always seeks,” said Gallardo.
Guatemala’s new generation has enjoyed a new start by posting a perfect 4W-0D-0L record in League C of the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League, while outscoring opponents 25-0. That has provided a big confidence boost, yet Gallardo knows that tougher matches await in WCQ.
“I saw the CNL as a good lesson in which we had to rise up from the lowest ranks because of the two-year suspension. We have to understand that those opponents didn’t necessarily have the best ranking, but it does help our confidence and we know that the matches that are coming in qualifying are not going to be the same opponents. They will be more difficult and there won’t be any lopsided wins,” said Gallardo.
Also aiding in Guatemala’s renaissance at the international level has been the introduction of the Scotiabank Concacaf League in which Gallardo and his current club side, Municipal, will compete in later this year.
“The SCL helps Guatemalan football because they are international games, they are games played at another level, at a different intensity, so as a club it helps a lot to see where you are at the international level and within the Concacaf region. It also provides a glimpse into what challenges may be posed with the national team, so those are matches that are well served for both your club and the national team,” said Gallardo.
On a personal level, some of Gallardo’s national team highlights include the equalizing goal in a 2010 South Africa WCQ in 2008 versus Trinidad and Tobago, along with Guatemala’s memorable run to the 2014 Copa Centroamericana Final. At the club level, he has played 13 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League matches, and while he feels like he still has several seasons left, he already has a fair idea of what may come once he decides to hang up his boots.
“I’m 36, which is no small thing in football. Thankfully, I feel like I am still in good shape and that’s why I’m at Municipal. In the future though I don’t see myself coaching, but I see myself more at the administrative level as a director of a club. I think that’s where my future seems to be,” concluded Gallardo.